When it comes to upgrading technology and teaching tools in an engineering classroom, there's a strange push and pull.
On one hand, there's a definite need to prepare learners to keep up with the demands of the workplace. Both inside and outside the classroom, technology changes rapidly. That puts tremendous pressure on educators and institutions to provide classes with an experience that complements these changes.
On the other hand, restrictions on finances, time, and human resources make it difficult to shift and upgrade equipment on a regular basis. New technology isn't simply dropped in. It needs to be programmed into the curriculum, and to some educators, this can feel like rebuilding a boat while out at sea.
Equipment such as the NI VirtualBench can provide
several instruments in one.
If and when fate smiles kindly and makes new technology accessible and affordable for engineering programs, should it necessarily be implemented? There are a number of challenges in introducing something new.
- Students may be enthralled by something new, but they may still be overwhelmed when asked to use new equipment to demonstrate learning. Even the keenest students can become accustomed and attached to previous tools and be reluctant to learn new ones.
- Instructors may not have the time and bandwidth to revamp the structure and content of a course to accommodate new technology.
- In addition to asking instructors to update their own skillset, it's essential to train teaching assistants and lab technicians. That may be costly and time-consuming.
So why upgrade, even with all of these challenges?
- If engineering students are to succeed in industry, they need to study in a program that keeps up with current developments. Any program or institution that hopes to support this owes it to its students to make the effort.
- Implementing new technology may actually make things easier for instructors, teaching assistants, and lab technicians -- at least in the long run. This is particularly true if the companies providing the technology also provide ongoing technical and courseware support.
- Most importantly, new technology may help create a richer classroom learning experience. Regardless of the benefits after graduation, it may be instrumental in helping students develop inquiry and problem solving skills.
Clearly, it's not necessary for engineering programs to buy into every innovation that comes along. Here are some important considerations:
- Technology should always be used to support core learning objectives, not vice versa. Novel tools should never overshadow the actual needs and requirements of an engineering program.
- An educator's perspective is essential in selecting devices and approaches, but it's also a good idea to view acquisitions through the lens of an experienced engineer or technologist. Combining these perspectives assures that the needs of the classroom are met, and that students are learning the skills and knowledge they'll need to thrive in real-life engineering.
A good way to make the most of opportunities to bring in new technology may be to involve the engineering community at large. Those employed in industry can provide valuable insights into what recent graduates lack. Experienced engineers can distinguish between technologies that benefit learners and those that are merely cool and novel.